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Setting Ground Rules With Your Children and Their Grandparents

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Greg could not believe what his mom was telling him as he returned to pick up his five year old son Ian. Ian threw a tantrum when Ian's grandmother told him he could not have ice cream for lunch and that he would have to wait until dinner. And not just any tantrum. Kicking, screaming, running around like crazy, all for the want of a bowl of ice cream. Greg's mother put Ian in time-out for five minutes to get Ian to calm down and that seemed to work, for which Greg was grateful. But his grandmother was firm — Ian could not stay there with them alone if this sort of behavior continued.

Greg and his wife were at first upset with Ian and knew that they needed to do something to restore the positive relationship that Ian had been building with his grandparents, but they weren't sure what they should do. Should they not leave Ian there alone again until he was older and more in control? Should they only let the grandparents interact with Ian on at their home where he felt more comfortable?

Any time that children interact with their grandparents, there is a chance that it will not go well. After all, in most cases Grandpa and Grandma are not living with the child and may not know how thing usually go. Children can also be a little stressed when left by their parents in an unfamiliar environment, or at least one that is not part of their daily routine. And grandparents may not have childproofed their home or may have rules that are unfamiliar to the children. It is a situation that without good communication and clear expectations can dissolve from good to bad in short order.

In fact, effective communication and establishment of reasonable expectations is the most important way to work through these kinds of issues. A father should take the following steps to make sure that the communication and expectations are crystal clear.

1. Talk with grandparents about their rules. Initiate a discussion about what the grandparents expect about their grandchildren's behavior in their home. There may be some parts of the home that are off limits, or maybe a certain level of quiet is expected. Then help the children understand these limits when they visit their grandparents. Because you have the authority, you need to set the rules with your children. It is not fair to leave that to the grandparents.

2. Explain your disciplinary strategy and ask for the grandparents to comply. Perhaps you and your kids' mom have determined that you will not punish children physically and prefer to use other methods like "time-out" or using diversions. Help your parents understand that these techniques work with your children and ask for their commitment to use what works for you and them. If they are not willing to follow your wishes in these situations, children should not be left alone with them.

3. Enforce the agreed-upon rules yourself when bad behavior occurs. Consider staying with the children at the grandparents' home for a few times to set the standard in the children's mind and take the active role in enforcing the rules. It will help them stay within bounds better when you leave if you have been a part setting the standards while you are there.

4. If grandparents are not equipped, ask about bringing favorite toys for the visit. Bringing some of your child's favorite and familiar toys will give them something to do at their grandparents' home. You might even consider asking the grandparents if you could leave some toys there for visits. At our home, we have a doll house downstairs in the family room that the granddaughters love and that is unique to our home.

5. It is important to have things to do when your children visit their grandparent and not leave the time too unstructured. Helping grandparents plan ahead for the visit is a good way to improve the odds of a successful visit. Arts and crafts, baking and decorating cookies, having movies to watch or playing games can help create a more positive experience. Just letting the kids run around will usually create a bad situation for all concerned.

The relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is special; inappropriate or ineffective discipline approaches can harm that important connection. Working with grandparents to clarify expectations, using appropriate discipline techniques when parents are gone, and earning the respect of your parents in your own parenting roles, will keep behavior in check and keep positive relationships with all involved.

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